'Selfmade rockstars' - Undercover Magazine (Munich, Germany)

English translation of Raj's interview in Munich's Undercover Magazine.

For the German version, click here.

Undercover Magazine
Selfmade rockstars

Raj Siva-Rajah, Bob Spencer, Tom McGirr and Justin Kool are The Sunpilots. Most young bands struggle to be discovered by a label and land a contract. The Sunpilots fight hard, but by other means. They moved from Australia to Berlin, arrange their tours directly and they are giving away their latest album for free. Without management, they have created a foothold in Europe and they aren’t bound by contracts.

It’s a lot of work and endless touring, but still the four guys have fun and are enjoying their growing popularity. The Sunpilots already have 16 000 likes on Facebook and seriously engaged fans when on stage. There’s no mistaking the voice of Raj Siva-Rajah, the lead singer, who’s mother was a classical Sri Lankan singer and taught him Carnatic vocals. Music is in the blood. "I've been singing since I was five and always played in bands. I grew up learning Carnatic music and listing to bands like Radiohead and Alice in Chains," Raj tells me.

The Sunpilots

"King of the Sugarcoated Tongues" is the album The Sunpilots are giving away for free on their homepage. "We want more people to hear our music,” says Raj. “And we want those people to come to concerts. By letting fans download the record and asking them to share it, we get new listeners and our shows grow.”

King of the Sugarcoated Tongues is divided into eight chapters and is about the human need for safety, and the freedoms we trade in return. Not just emotionally, but also in society. It’s easy to feel safe, comfortable and protected.

The Sunpilots are truly “independent” because Raj handles the band’s own record label, finance, management- everything you need to run a rock band. The band tour through Europe in their bus, sleeping on the sofas of many friends and sharing an apartment in Berlin... four guys in van on tour around the world. Originally The Sunpilots came to Europe in 2010 for one year, however they have been here two and with their growing success, there are no plans to go back to Australia soon.

Nevertheless, the band misses their homeland. "It's tough!" Raj confesses, "I miss my family and friends. We have skype, but it’s not the same." Things between the band certainly don't seem to be too difficult. They live together. With a laugh, Raj tells me it’s a “love/hate” relationship. "We’re not friends, we’re brothers. Which is great, but you need your own space too."

The Sunpilots will perform at the Street Life Festival in Munich on June 10th. Come out and rock with them!

Priska Nicky, Undercover Magazine

Poland - A country of contrasts

We've fallen in love with Poland and it's people.

Historically Poland has always got the short end of the stick. Sitting on a completely flat piece of land in between two massive powers, I suppose it was inevitable that the country was so often caught in their tug-of-war. Since the fall of communism 20 years ago however, things have been changing at a meteoric pace. The Polish spirit is one of proud perseverance and there's an unbelievable sense of excitement about what's been happening in the country. It's infectious. I once remarked to a friend in Poznan about the number of new highways and buildings under construction. He replied that "Poland is under construction!". Sure, there are plenty of issues that the people still face. Free university education has led to a large pool of skilled workers but the job market is still playing catch-up. The average standard of living is still behind their neighbours to the west. But with a rapidly expanding middle-class and one of the fastest growing economies in Europe (it was the only EU country to avoid a decline in GDP during the global financial crisis) it won't be long before Poland is one of the power-houses of Europe alongside it's German and French sisters. And considering the number of German and French business investing in the country, they seem to agree.

Still, facts and figures aren't the reason we're back here for the third time. Polish people are one of the most crazy and passionate audiences we've played to in Europe. If they're feeling the music they're not afraid to jump onto a table and show it- that's pretty inspiring for a musician. Poles also manage to pull off contradictions better than most- for example their blend of extreme optimism and extreme pessimism. It's a little hard to explain.. but it's very Polish. The most addictive thing for me is that freedom is only 20-years young, so everyone is still celebrating it. It's how we should all be living life. I guess that's why we now call so many of our Polish fans friends.

-Raj

The price of pursuing dreams

People ask me what it's been like- leaving family and friends behind and moving to the other side of the world. It's a tough question to answer when I've missed a so many birthdays, celebrations...  even a funeral. I usually reply that my time in Europe has been amazing (personally and for the band), so it's been hard but worth it. I'm loving life over here and with the way things are going for us, I can't see myself moving back to Australia any time soon. Still, we don't normally talk about the harder side of what we're doing so here's a little look behind the scenes:

We're doing it Rolling Stones style and living together in one flat (in Berlin). Plenty of people have housemates but not many work, play and spend 20-30 hours a week in a little van with as well. The guys are more like family than friends but that isn't always a good thing. Being around three brothers 24/7 is a hell of a lot harder than being around three mates. But we love eachother nonetheless.

Our schedule is pretty brutal. Leave Berlin on Wed or Thurs, drive 8 or 9 hours and set up / soundcheck / play / pack down for 3 or 4 days of shows. There's normally a 4 or 5 hour drive between each show too. Then drive back to Berlin on Sun or Mon to work on the management side of things for a couple of days (we're 100% independent and run our own label). Then come Wed or Thurs we do it all again.

On bigger legs things get even more intense- our 3 week tour of France ended in Nice and we did the return trip from Nice to Berlin in one day (through 5 countries). Most nights on tour we're couch surfing to save cash- sleeping on air beds someone's house or staying in hostel dorms. It's an amazing way to meet people but sleep deprivation is pretty standard. Getting to bed around 3 or 4am every night doesn't help...

To put things in perspective, you might not know that we're touring full time. Yes, very week of the year. Which means this has been our weekly schedule for the last 10 months... crazy times.

There's no denying that life on the road is an awesome adventure, but the flip side is we're normally never in one place long enough to develop meaningful friendships with people. Now that we've been here for a while that's starting to change, but it's a slow process. So yes, things can get a bit lonely sometimes.

That being said, the other question I get is "is it worth it?". Despite the insanity, my answer to that has never changed. Two words - HELL YES.

Raj